Saturday, October 30, 2010

My ongoing struggle between the ideal and the real.

 I read Tana French's first novel, In The Woods, this summer and was impressed with French's ability to raise some serious questions about humanity in her mystery novels.  Someone in my building conveniently left her second novel up for grabs by our mailboxes, so I recently followed up with The Likeness.  

The story follows Detective Cassie Maddox as she goes undercover investigating a murder of a woman who looks nearly exactly like her, and was using the identity of a person she and her boss made up for a previous undercover operation, Lexie Madison. She lived with 4 of her best friends, all getting their PhDs in literature, in a house that one of them had inherited outside of Dublin.  The police squad decides to tell the roommates that Lexie survived the attack and will be going home.  Maddox's job is to get to know the roommates in order to narrow down a suspect.

Life at the Whitethorn House, as it is called, seemed to be picturesque.  With no television, the friends spent their evenings reading, playing cards or working on the house itself.  The girls prepared breakfast each day while the boys cooked dinner every night.  Their rhythms felt old fashioned, and it was in that simplicity that they seemed to come alive that such an existence possible. Daniel, who inherited the house and gave the other 4 ownership in it described it as: "colors were so beautiful they hurt, life became almost unimaginably sweet and almost unimaginably frightening.  It's so fragile, you know...everything was so beautiful and precarious, it took my breath away."

Literature, like any other art form, is able to capture moments of ultimate beauty--and when I am standing in front of an impressionist painting or listening to any slow song with a pedal steel or rereading one of my favorite books I am carried away into the belief that the moment's perfection can last.

But it doesn't. And it can't. And that hurts me.

The crux of the mystery in this story lies in the fact that the illusion was shattered, and it was this passage that I couldn't stop thinking about: "The idea was flawed, of course... innately and fatally flawed.  It depended on two of the human race's greatest myths: the possibility of permanence, and the simplicity of human nature.  Both of which are all well and good in literature, but the purest fantasy outside the covers of a book.  Our story should have stopped that night with the cold cocoa, the night we moved in: and they all lived happily ever after, the end." 

But all good readers know that a story without tension is boring and happily-ever-after stories aren't as satisfying as one would think because they don't feel authentic.

I live between the ideal and real, and feel its tension deeply: it is impossible for me to walk without being firmly grounded in what I know is real, and yet my soul would wither if I couldn't hope in the beautiful.  I suppose it is the reciprocal emotions that create the human experience.  To solely chase perfection in this world is ultimately a destructive pursuit.  Likewise, to live strapped to reality is utterly unromantic and unappealing.

So, with grace, the struggle goes on.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Harry Potter is just too big for a blog.

I was mortified when I realized that I haven't written on this blog since September 30th.

It's definitely not that I haven't been reading, but I think it's because I've been reading so much for school: my students have all created their own reading blogs and since it's so early in the process I feel compelled to read them all 93 every week, which has been happening over my Saturday morning tea rather than writing about my own reading experiences, per usual (which must change). I've also been preparing for the book clubs that are starting up in my classroom. This is the first time I have attempted to be in book clubs with students all year long.  A little crazy.  My brain has been consumed lately with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  While my reading focus has been on what my students' book club experiences will be like, I also realized that there are depths to be mined in old Harry Potter.  I've been overwhelmed by all of my thoughts that I have no idea where to begin, and this has snowballed as I've been reading multiple essays in Harry Potter and Philosophy and Reading Harry Potter: Critical Essays.

That being said, I'm currently looking to reinvent some healthier rhythms that don't involve quite so much work *and* I promise I'm on a mission to draw some serious conclusions about Harry Potter (though, I can say that I'll be rereading this series for the rest of my life, so I suppose I don't have to discover them all now).  For now, here are some of the biggest Harry Potter threads going in my brain (please do not continue reading if you have not read the entire series, and on that note, if you haven't read this series, I'm not sure what you're waiting for):

  • The fact that since we are able to be inside Harry's brain, Rowling brilliantly creates a narrative in which most readers begin to trust all of Harry's thoughts and the conclusions he draws, especially about Snape, and especially in retrospect in light of the ending of book 7. 
  • "In book II, Dumbledore tells Harry that the essence of one's character is defined by what one chooses to do rather than by any inherent Dumbledore's standards, is [Snape] not an even greater hero than Harry?" (from Cruel Heroes and Treacherous Texts, Schanoes)
  • "Both Snape and Black complicate a black and white moral schema. Where Snape forces the reader to accept a bad person who chooses the side of good, Black forces us to acknowledge the potential for violence and ruthlessness that can exist in a good person." (from Cruel Heroes and Treacherous Texts, Schanoes)
  • The character arc of Neville Longbottom, and the development of Harry, Ron and Hermione, obviously. 
Tomorrow the Harry Potter 7 Reread book club begins their "pre-club" thinking work...developing the narrative arcs of the first six books in order to provide a foundation for our approach to book 7. My guess is that my conclusions won't be totally drawn until I've talked all this through with my brilliant students.  My hope is that I will be posting on the other aspects of my reading life before then, though.